When making a movie about survival, there are two things you need to get right: Create compelling characters and make the audience believe those characters are truly in danger. If it's missing either of those elements, it's usually dead on arrival.
Thankfully, the people who made Arctic got virtually everything about their movie right. The film thrusts the audience directly into the survival ordeal of a man named Overgård (Maks Mikkelsen), whose plane has crashed somewhere in the Arctic tundra. An obviously seasoned survivalist, he spends day after day doing the same routine of perfecting his SOS sign, checking his ice fishing holes, and climbing to a high point to send out a rescue signal.
Day after day, though, he seems no closer to being saved, and he starts to consider making an unforgiving trek to a seasonal shack with radio equipment that is many miles away. A dramatic event soon forces his hand, and he sets out for the faraway destination with some unexpected cargo.
The danger of the events in the film seem all too real thanks to the dedication of the filmmakers, led by writer/director Joe Penna. Filmed on location in Iceland, every frame of the film is filled with the desolate snow-filled landscape. There is no faking the bitter cold, constant wind, and snowstorms that Overgård must endure every day, and the story plays that much better due to the verisimilitude.
Penna and co-writer/editor Ryan Morrison keep the film pulsating thanks to many different components that tell a story with relatively few spoken words. Even though they give very little background for Overgård, they tell all you need to know about the type of character he has through his actions. He perseveres through obstacles that most others could not, not because he’s superhuman but because of his work ethic and morals.
Mikkelsen, perhaps best known for playing the titular psychopath in the three-season run of Hannibal, does yeoman’s work as Overgård. The conditions were almost certainly an aid in making the character believable, but it’s clear that Mikkelsen had a full dedication to making him complete despite the lack of exposition.
The best movies transport their audiences to places they may never experience or even want to go. The makers of Arctic go to flabbergasting lengths to tell their harrowing story, giving its audience a massive reward in the process.